Good news does not solve issue

By: 
Guest Editorial Khale Lenhart

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here were several important developments in Wyoming’s political world this past month.  The primary election on August 25 narrowed the fields of candidates and included a number of upsets of sitting legislators in addition to the nominations of opposing party challengers and open seat contestants.  Additionally, the update to the state’s budget forecast carried some good news, with revenues exceeding expectations.  Given the dire outlook on our state’s budget, having revenues come in ahead of what was anticipated is great news.  This will provide state government with additional breathing room as our legislature and governor determine how to address our ongoing budget issues.

However, the fact that revenues are coming in higher than expected does not mean that our budget issues are solved.  It does not mean that the downturn in the natural resources market is not occurring.  It does not mean that our state currently spends far more than it can sustainably support.  Rather, what this slightly improved revenue picture means is that we have a little more time and flexibility to solve the systematic problems with our state budget.  It does not buy us decades - or even years - at this point, but it does make it a little easier to get the job done.  

For the job to get done, our next legislature must take this issue very seriously.  I hate it when candidates claim that “this election is the most important election of our lives.”  Every election, pundits and candidates say this to appeal to their base and encourage voter turnout.  For Wyoming, though, this year it may just be true when it comes to our state legislature.  The window to act is small and the 2021-22 legislature is going to have to make decisions that have massive impacts on how our state and communities are organized.  This is not the time for us to elect uninformed candidates.  We do not need legislators who show up to the legislature expecting to figure it out as they go.  We do not need single issue legislators who fail to appreciate the importance of the decisions in front of them.  We especially do not need legislators who refuse to let the facts get in the way of their ideological assumptions.  Rather, we need legislators who are able and prepared to address the real issues facing our state, with the budget being chief among them.  

Lest I sound like I am too pessimistic about Wyoming’s future, let me be clear: I believe in Wyoming and I believe we are going to see our budget issues through.  Wyoming has had its ups and downs and has always emerged stronger.  Our current issues are a challenge, but it is not a challenge we are incapable of facing.  We need to be optimistic, but realistic.  We need to expect that we will find a solution, but we should look at the problem clearly as we figure out how to solve it.  We cannot let what we wish were true to get in the way of facing what is actually true.  This is why we must be vigilant in selecting public officials who are guided by conservative principles as they address real world issues.  We must avoid the temptation to vote for candidates who say the right things but refuse to accept that the problems we face are real or important.  We must have the strength to choose uncomfortable truths over what we wish to hear.    

When it comes to our budget, this is precisely the struggle Wyoming is locked in.  We must choose candidates who acknowledge that our budget issues are real and imminent and who are seeking real, conservative ways to address it.  We as a voting public must also accept that this is true.  I heard of recent polling that indicated that over 50% of Wyoming citizens thought that our state’s current budget outlook was “good.”  If this is true, the only explanations are either a failure to stay informed or a failure to accept the reality facing us.  Our budget outlook is not “good.”  It is dire.  However, with the right types of legislators with the right attitudes, I believe we can fix it and move on to an even stronger future.  For that to happen, all of us – officials and voters alike – must accept the problem and work to solve it.

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